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Month in review

Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack
Another Life by Charles Oberndorf
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Castway Cats by Lisa Wheeler
Chicka Chicka ABC by Bill Martin Jr. and Lois Ehlert
City of Light, City of Dark by Avi
Clifford the Small Red Puppy by Norman Bridwell
Constellation Chronicles: The Lost Civilization of Aries by Vincent Lowry review copy
Day of the Dragon-King (Magic Tree House #14) by Mary Pope Osborne
The Digital Plague by Jeff Somers
Dino-Dinners by Brita Granstrom
Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House #1) by Mary Pope Osborne
Don't Say Ain't by Irene Smalls
Do You Want to be My Friend? by Eric Carle
Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan
Esoteric City by Bruce Sterling
Evolution's Shore (aka Chaga) by Ian McDonald
Harriet and the Garden by Nancy Carlson
I Spy Fun House by Jean Marzollo
I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss
Jin Jin the Dragon by Grace Chang
Lizzi & Fredl: A Perilous Journey of Love and Faith by William B. Stanford
Logicist by Carol Emshwiller
Madeline and the Cats of Rome by John Bemelmans Marciano
The Mammy by Brendan O'Carroll
Minifred Goes to School by Mordicai Gerstein
Miss Pickerell and the Geigor Counter by Ellen MacGregor
The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood
Nightwings by Robert Silverberg
One Yellow Lion by Matthew Van Fleet
Opera Cat by Tess Weaver
Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains by Dawn Menge
Riding High by John Francom and James Macgregor
Sassy by Gloria Mallette
The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald
Strange Reading by Grant Uden
The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder
Tarot Cafe Volume 1 by Sang-Sun Park
Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar
Vacation Under the Volcano (Magic Tree House #13) by Mary Pope Osborne
The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer
Where Is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox
Yoko's Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells

Previous month

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Comments for Avatar

Avatar (Link goes to Powells)Avatar: 01/01/10

Ian and I went to see Avatar, a film I was not expecting to see in the theaters. I love science fiction but the big block busters usually rub me the wrong way. But the tickets were a gift so there we were this morning drinking coffee and eating popcorn and listening to piped in Michael Jackson music before the previews. Let's just say I went in there feeling more than skeptical. I was expecting to hate it and be stuck sitting through a three hour film wearing uncomfortable 3D glasses.

The gist of the film is that a paralyzed ex-Marine is recruited to take his twin's place when he is killed in a robbery. The avatars are grown from a mixture of na'vi and human DNA to allow the humans to interact with the natives of Pandora. Unfortunately the scientific and diplomatic aspects of human and na'vi interactions is being pushed to the wayside by the mining company's need to make expected quarterly profits. So think Monsters' Inc. (who also has a Sully as the main character) except that James Sullivan didn't put on a human body to harvest the scream from the kids.

Jake Sully comes on board as a mixture of the reluctant hero and the shit for brains jarhead. Throughout the film we get his voice over explaining what's going on and his thoughts on them but obviously told from some time in the future. Sully's cluelessness is our ticket to ride along. As he learns; we learn. Seeing how his life on the base is mitigated by being wheelchair bound added for me an extra and unexpected depth to the film.

In terms of storytelling, Avatar isn't breaking any ground. If you've read any James Fenimore Cooper novels, you've read the same story used in Avatar. There's of course a heavy homage to Heart of Darkness and it's cinematic adaptation Apocalypse Now except that Kurtz has opted to stay on the base to call the shots. It's not Kurtz who goes native in this one.

What sets Cameron's film apart from the novels by Cooper and Conrad is the world building. I especially loved the scientific team headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). Grace has some of the best lines while teaching the rest of us about the na'vi language (she "wrote the book") and biology of the planet.

Points too for bothering to create a language that has a recognizable grammar. Once you hear enough of it and read along with the subtitles you can start to get the gist of what they're saying. I also think some of the big choral music is actually sung in the language. I also like that the natives' ability to speak English is explained instead of just having it done that way for convenience. Having them speak with a Jamaican accent though was a bit weird.

To make Pandora seem alien the set design makes use of a lot of black light and glow in the dark features. All the plants glow at night in either green, violet or pink. To show how connected the Na'vi are to nature their footsteps literally light up the pathways that they walk. It's pretty to look at but hokey.

The 3D: We saw the film in 3D. The glasses use linear polarized lenses. Think Captain E.O. When we saw Up over the summer that film used circular polarization which is more forgiving with the 3D effect. When we were watching Up it didn't matter if we lounged in our seats; we could still see the 3D images perfectly focused. With Avatar we had to sit bolt upright with our heads perfectly forward facing. A slight deviation in any direction and the images would start to separate.

Frankly though there's nothing in the film that needs the 3D. It's just there to make it seem "cool" and to drive up the ticket price. Sure, there are the typical chase and fight scenes where everything comes at the screen. It's been done to death and serves no purpose. The 3D isn't integrated into the story. I am looking forward to re-seeing the film without the 3D so I can concentrate on the artwork.

What I want to see next:
Although the film is long (and it does begin to feel long near the finally confrontation) there's enough detail and back story left to Pandora left unexplored. What I'd love to see (and I doubt they'll do because Cameron isn't Lucas) is a collection of short stories by current science fiction and fantasy authors to see how they can expand on what's presented in the film. There is however a book about the biological and social history of Pandora by Maria Wilhelm. That's a good start but I want more.

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